If the relocation does not take place within a year and a half, the island’s infrastructure may slip to ruin, says project director
The facilities on the Bhashan Char Island, developed by Bangladesh Navy for the relocation of little over 100,000 Rohingyas, are far better than those of the congested camps in Cox’s Bazar.
On a visit to the island organized by the government for a group of journalists from print and electronic media on Wednesday and Thursday, it was found that living conditions on the island with respect to civic amenities were much better than in the settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
Despite this reality, the government is yet to convince the Rohingyas and the United Nations about the relocation for various reasons, including proper and timely projection of positive aspects of the island and inspection by UN experts.
The island of Bhashan Char, which is administratively under Noakhali’s Hatiya upazila, has been ready to receive the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar for some time now.
Commodore AA Mamun Chowdhury, director of the Ashrayan-3 project (the official name of the Bhashan Char project), has warned that the infrastructure, built at a cost of about Tk3,100 crore, might fall into ruin if the relocation did not take place in a year and a half.
He also said that a decision in relation to the relocation was urgent and the government might think of conducting economic activities on the island if the Rohingyas were not transferred there.
When contacted, Louise Donovan, communications officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) based in Cox’s Bazar, told Dhaka Tribune: “The UN’s longstanding position remains that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char are essential before relocations to the island take place and that any relocation should be voluntary and follow an inclusive and consultative process.
“The UN has long been prepared to proceed with this onsite assessment work,” she said.
During the trip to the island on Wednesday and Thursday, it was observed that the project had been implemented around the concept of cluster villages to house 101,360 Rohingyas.
All the buildings have been constructed four feet above the ground. Every cluster has 12 houses with 16 rooms and a four-storey steel-structure shelter station. There are 1,440 rooms and 120 shelter stations in 120 cluster villages.
Every room can accommodate four people. In case of any calamities, 860 people can stay at the shelter stations, which, according to officials, can withstand cyclones with speeds of about 260 kilometers an hour. Animals can be kept on the ground floor during natural calamities.
Every cluster has separate toilets for males and females, as well as a kitchen with multiple ovens.
Every shelter will be provided with electricity through solar power. Charcoal will be used for cooking purposes and there will also be the option for use of LPG.
Four warehouses have been constructed that can store food for 100,000 Rohingyas for about three months. Telecommunication services are available.
Two 20-bed hospitals and four community clinics have been constructed. There is a police station and police post on the island to maintain law and order.
Arrangements have been made to manage all kinds of waste.
There will be two playgrounds for the Rohingya children and there is some space available for playing in every cluster house.
There are also places for prayers, burials and markets. Accommodations have been made available for officials of the government, UN and NGOs. There are also two helipads.
Trees are in abundance on the island. Furthermore, new trees are being planted.
There is potential for the farming of vegetables, fruits, fish, ducks, swans, buffaloes, sheep, chickens and pigeons.
Briefing by project director
While briefing journalists upon arrival, Project Director Commodore Chowdhury talked about the different aspects of the island and replied to various questions.
The island has 13,000 acres of land during low tide, of which 6,427 acres do not go under water, he said.
The project had been implemented through the construction of embankments around 1,702 acres, he added.
Commodore Chowdhury said: “The project was approved on November 28, 2017 and we started developing in December 2017.
“The Bangladesh Navy was given the responsibility to implement the project. Two British companies worked as consultants for onshore and offshore activities,” he said.
“Initially the cost was Tk2,312 crore, but later an additional Tk782 crore was allocated for marine facilities and the expansion of the embankment,” said the project director.
In total, 42km of roads have been constructed, he added.
About the island’s vulnerability to cyclones, Chowdhury said the embankment had been constructed after studying history and data of the last 176 years.
In order to protect the island from cyclones and tidal surges, twelve kilometers of embankment at a height of nine feet had already been completed and work was ongoing to increase the height to nineteen feet, he said.
The senior naval officer said: “As the project director, I would want it to be handed over to the departments concerned. If the infrastructure on the island is not properly managed…I would like to say through you that if no one comes here within the next year or year and a half, there is a possibility that the project and infrastructure built at the cost of so much money might face ruin,” he said.
“It is urgent to take a decision on relocating the Rohingyas, or the government can use the infrastructure for economic activities if there is scope,” he added.
Replying to a volley of questions on convincing the Rohingyas as well as the international community, especially the UN, Commodore Chowdhury said that the matter was not under his jurisdiction and that his job was to implement the project.
However, he expressed optimism that the government departments concerned were working on convincing everyone concerned on the issue.